A mar­riage of con­ve­nience for Moscow, but Tehran has an omi­nous aim

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Con Cough­lin

Ever since Vladimir Putin launched his mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Syria, Moscow has main­tained an uneasy al­liance with Iran. On one level, Rus­sia and Iran have shared the same ob­jec­tive: keep­ing the regime of Bashar al-as­sad in power. In­deed, Mr Putin’s de­ci­sion to in­ter­vene in Syria in 2014 was only taken af­ter he re­ceived a warn­ing from Iran’s elite Quds Force that the As­sad regime was on the point of col­lapse.

This prospect had po­ten­tially se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the fu­ture of Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary bases in Syria, at Latakia and Tar­tus, which date back to the Cold War era and were es­tab­lished as part of Moscow’s long-stand­ing strategic part­ner­ship with the As­sad fam­ily. Rus­sia’s pri­mary in­ter­est, there­fore, in sup­port­ing the As­sad regime was to pro­tect and main­tain its mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Syria.

Iran, on the other hand, sees its ties with Da­m­as­cus as an at­tempt to strengthen its in­flu­ence in the Arab world. Apart from keep­ing open vi­tal sup­ply lines across the Le­banese border to Hizbol­lah, the Ira­ni­an­backed Shia mili­tia, Iran has taken ad­van­tage of Syria’s long-run­ning civil war to build per­ma­nent mil­i­tary bases.

Iran’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ex­pand­ing its mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in Syria has been to strengthen its abil­ity to tackle the nu­mer­ous rebel groups that are fight­ing to over­throw the As­sad regime. But the fact that the Ira­ni­ans have de­ployed thou­sands of medium and long-range mis­siles in Syria sug­gests they have a more omi­nous ob­jec­tive – to threaten Is­rael.

Iran’s in­sis­tence on ex­ploit­ing its al­liance with As­sad to es­tab­lish a new front in its long-stand­ing con­fronta­tion with the Jewish state has cre­ated ten­sions be­tween Moscow and Tehran, as the Krem­lin has no in­ter­est in pro­vok­ing a con­flict with Is­rael. On the con­trary, Mr Putin is said to en­joy a good re­la­tion­ship with Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter, to the ex­tent that, in the past, Moscow has given Is­rael a green light to at­tack Ira­nian po­si­tions in Syria, even though Rus­sia and Iran are sup­posed to be al­lies fight­ing com­mon cause on be­half of the As­sad regime.

It is now be­ing re­ported that Is­rael gave Moscow ad­vance warn­ing of its lat­est wave of air strikes against the Ira­ni­ans on Wed­nes­day night af­ter Iran was ac­cused of fir­ing a num­ber of rock­ets at the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied Golan Heights from its Syr­ian bases.

This cu­ri­ous state of af­fairs helps to il­lus­trate the un­der­ly­ing ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and Iran, which date back to the pre­vi­ous decade. Then, the Rus­sians ac­cused Tehran of pro­vid­ing mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion about the true ex­tent of its nu­clear en­rich­ment pro­gramme.

Any al­liance, then, be­tween Rus­sia and Iran is likely to be more of a mar­riage of con­ve­nience than a close strategic part­ner­ship.

And a good way for the Rus­sians to se­cure the fu­ture of their mil­i­tary bases in Syria would be to per­suade Iran to cease its ag­gres­sive ac­tions to­wards Is­rael.

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